More False Symmetry from Newsweek

For some journalists, there is a strong temptation to create an illusion of symmetry out of completely asymmetrical circumstances.

Much has been written, for example, about the implied moral equivalence in various news stories of Israelis (overwhelmingly civilians) killed by Palestinian terrorists and Palestinians (primarily combatants) killed in Israeli counter-terror operations.

Other examples of false symmetry that have appeared in news stories include: the assertion that active, prominent and popular terrorist organizations similar to Hamas or Hezbollah exist in Israel; the equating of a Palestinian terrorist group’s refusal to abide by a cease-fire with Israelis who contemplated demonstrating against their government’s policy; the claim that, like Lebanese civilians unintentionally killed while Israel was attacking Hezbollah targets, Israeli civilians killed by Hezbollah rockets were also “unintended targets”; and the assertion that Israeli and Arab children are both taught to “revere killing.”

Newsweek took this equation to a personal level when, in April 2002, the magazine published on its cover side-by-side photos of Rachel Levy and Ayat al-Akhras. According to the accompanying article, both Levy, a 17-year-old Israeli casualty of a terror attack, and Ayat al-Akhras, the 18-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber who murdered Levy and another Israeli, were equally “victims of the madness of martyrdom.”

The juxtoposition offended countless people; but that did not deter the magazine from again creating false symmetry between those on the giving end and those on the receiving end of antagonism and hostility.

In the Oct. 16 Newsweek International Edition, reporters Christopher Dickey and Zvika Krieger described the state of relations between Israel and Egypt. While noting the existence of high level cooperation between the countries’ governments, the reporters stated that “relations continue to improve at the top, even as they erode from below.” Dickey and Krieger supported this assertion by pointing to several examples of grassroots Egyptian antagonism toward Israel:

The mood among the people is rather different. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, closely associated with Hamas in the Palestinian territories, is now by far the strongest opposition party in Egypt. Last year it won 88 seats in Parliament and would have taken more if the government hadn’t interfered massively in the election process. The Brotherhood has other issues to exploit besides its hatred for Israel—but that’s one of its most potent. Its M.P.s now regularly initiate calls in Parliament to expel the Israeli ambassador from Cairo and cut diplomatic relations.

Even more surprising to Western democracy advocates is the anti-Israel line touted by Egypt’s leftist groups, including the much-hyped reform movement Kifaya (Enough). Though the group, founded in 2000, has always been hostile toward Israel, in August it launched a petition to annul the peace treaty. “We are the pro-democracy movement in Egypt, but we are anti-Bush and anti-Israel, and this initiative makes that clear,” says Wael Khalil, one of Kifaya’s leaders. The group claims to have 100,000 signatures already and is hoping for a million. (“The Cold Peace: The 1979 Egyptian-Israeli treaty endures, 25 years after Sadat. But can it last much longer?”)

The journalists offered no examples of similar anti-Egyptian sentiment among Israelis, but nonetheless concluded that Israelis feel the same antagonism as demonstrated by the Egyptians. “Ordinary Egyptians and Israelis … find [fomer Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat’s legacy a source not of hope but of anger,” they wrote, adding that the peace between the countries “must be more honest than Mubarak or his Israeli counterparts have been able to offer, and it must go deeper to touch ordinary people, Arabs and Israelis alike.”

Why did the reporters fail to substantiate their assertion that Israelis, like Egyptians, are angry about the peace treaty? Probably because they found no evidence of any widespread Israeli desire to repeal the treaty.

In fact, if there is any “anger” in Israel about relations with Egypt, it is not over the peace treaty itself, but rather because Egyptian society—taking its cue from the Egyptian government and the often anti-Semitic state-controlled media—still has not accepted the idea of a warm peace, or even normalization, between the two countries. Along with the Muslim Brotherhood and Kifaya—the two anti-Israel organizations mentioned by the authors—there are numerous examples showing Egypt’s refusal to engage in neighborly relations with Israel.
 
Egyptian Views

In August 2006, a group of judges in Egypt called on their government to repeal the peace with Israel.  Egyptian professional organization and trade unions bar members from any contact with Israel or Israelis. And according to a poll that same month, Egyptians ranked Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah,  Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal and Iranian President  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—all of whom are openly sworn to Israel's destruction—as the three most popular figures in the Middle East.

Commentators from all sides acknowledge the hostility on the part of Egyptians.

As far back as 1981, a story in the "Travel" section of the New York Times noted that "wariness and hesitation" regarding the peace treaty are found "especially on the Egyptian side." The same article referred to Israel's complaints about "an Egyptian tendency, particularly at the sub-presidential level, deliberately to slow down the progress and the rate of normalization."
 
More recently, in 2003, Tel Aviv University researcher Dan E ldar described the relationship between Israel and Egypt. He mentioned a point completely ignored by the Newsweek reporters, but necessary to help understand Egyptians' feelings toward its neighbor—demonization of Israel and anti-Semitism in the Egyptian press:

Egyptian attitudes to the relationship, depicted metaphorically as a "cold peace" for over twenty years, are laden with Egyptian popular animosity toward Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish people. Israel often protests the most visible manifestations of this animosity in the Egyptian press. State-controlled newspapers relentlessly demonize Israel and dehumanize the Jewish people and its leaders by publishing anti-Semitic articles and cartoons. But this is only a symptom of a much deeper problem, rooted in the way Egypt's rulers regard their peace with Israel. ...
Egypt has assiduously amassed the fruits of peace, primarily U.S. aid on a large scale. But it has refused to see its diplomatic and cultural relations with Israel as a fruit of peace. Indeed, to the extent it must maintain such relations, it regards them as an embarrassment and a burden. Fouad Ajami has succinctly summarized the Egyptian-Israeli asymmetry in the peace equation: "Egypt has not committed itself to an intellectual struggle for peace." The Egyptians have not yet adapted themselves to a true reconciliation with Israel, in large part because the Egyptian leadership has done nothing to transform public opinion and lead it in that direction.
(Shlomo Avineri, a professor of political science at Hebrew University who helped draft the Cultural, Scientific and Educational Agreement between Israel and Egypt, similarly addressed Egypt's "anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish [media] campaigns." Read his comments in the International Herald Tribune here. See also ADL's backgrounder here.) 
 
In 2005, Herbert Kelman, a former Director of the Program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Harvard, wrote in Peace and Conflict: The Journal of Peace Psychology that "normalization of relations with Israel continues to meet with disapproval in Egyptian society."
 
Linda Heard, a virulent critic of Israel, acknowledged in 2004 that "searching for an ordinary Egyptian actively seeking warm relations with ... Israelis" is like searching for a "needle in a haystack."
 
And Nabil Zaki, an Egyptian newspaper editor, observed in 2003 that Egyptian groups opposed to normalization with Israel "enjoy the support of the masses." (Zaki also claimed that "Israel does not want normalization." It is not surprising, though, that the journalist has a less-than-refined understanding of the Israeli public. As editor of a newspaper published by the  hardline al-Tagummu—an Egyptian opposition party that rejected the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty from the start, recently urged that Israel's membership in the United Nations to be frozen, and called for violence against Israel—he is more qualified to comment on Egyptian attitudes than Israeli viewpoints.)
 
Another Egyptian, politician Hussein Abdel-Razek, explained that "for the Egyptian Armed Forces Israel is the enemy, and this is very telling of how the government, which signed a peace agreement 22 years ago, views its neighbor."
 
Israeli Views
 
The outlook of Israelis toward peace and normalization with Egypt differs drastically from this Egyptian rejectionism.
 
It is true that there are some negative feelings among Israelis regarding the peace treaty with Egypt; but those feelings generally revolve around disappointment that Egyptians seem, at best, uninterested in a closer relationship. Political scientist Ephraim Inbar wrote in 1998 that many Israelis have backed away from hopes of a warm peace in part becasue "most Israelis realize that what was termed in the past 'normalization' is something that Egypt has been unwilling to accept, despite its formal commitment to the concept. Israelis have learned that Arab societies are unwilling to engage in people-to-people interactions."
 
Despite that disappointment, though, Israelis strongly support the peace between the two countries.
 
Harvard's Herbert Kelman was in Israel when it was announced that Sadat would be visiting the country. "It is not enough to speak of enthusiasm and excitement," he wrote of Israel's reaction to the news. "Words like joy, euphoria, and exultation seem more appropriate. ... When the news of the visit was first announced, spontaneous dancing broke out in one of the main squares of Jerusalem; instead of restoring traffic, the police apparently joined in."
 
The New York Times article mentioned above noted that "Israelis crave Egyptian tourists."
 
Tel Aviv University's Dan Eldar explained that "Israel has yearned for a real peace including normalization of all its relations with Egypt ...." Noteably, he described the discrepancy between Israeli and Egyptian views as an "asymmetry in the peace equation."
 
Even the anti-Israel journalist Linda Heard, who in the article cited above noted the dearth of Egyptians who want warm relations with the Jewish state, refrained from claiming Israelis reciprocate Egyptians' cold feelings.
 
Indeed, a poll a few years ago showed that 85 percent of Israelis support the peace treaty.
 
Regrettably, once again Newsweek has opted for the falsity of equating Israeli attitudes with those of its rejectionist enemies.